If you have been injured in an auto or truck crash in Tennessee, you should never sign a release of claims or other document presented to you without first consulting an attorney. Although successful on appeal, one injured driver’s recent case is a cautionary story in this area. He made a major decision in signing a “Release of All Claims” document after relying only upon the statements of people who worked for the trucking company that was potentially liable for his damages. This choice almost cost him his entire chance to pursue his personal injury case — and may yet even after the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the initial decision to throw out his case.
The origin of this case was a March 2012 accident in the Chattanooga area. A semi driven by the defendant jackknifed, which caused the truck to slam into the plaintiff’s vehicle, which, in turn, caused the plaintiff to lose control of his vehicle and crash into a barrier wall. At the scene of the accident, the truck driver gave the injured driver a document and asked him to sign it. The document allegedly was designed to release the truck driver’s employer from any and all liability associated with the accident.
The injured driver did not sign the document. This was a wise move. Whenever someone is asking you to sign a document that may reduce or even eliminate your legal rights or options, it is almost never a good idea to sign without consulting legal counsel first. That is especially true when you’re still at the scene of the accident and, whether due to your injuries or just the general trauma of being involved in an accident, are probably stressed out, hurting, distracted, and generally not focused on the “fine print” of a contract’s language.
On the day of the accident, the trucker’s employer hired an investigator. Within a few days, the investigator contacted the man and discussed a possible settlement between him and the trucking company. The settlement would have paid for the value of the injured man’s car, three days’ worth of lost wages, and $510 toward a rental car. The total of the proposed settlement was $9,785. Note that nothing in this $9,785 covered anything regarding medical bills or follow-up treatment.
Ultimately, the figure was rounded up to $10,000, and the injured driver agreed to that settlement. Two days after the crash, the injured driver and his wife both signed a “Release of All Claims” document that the trucking company required before issuing the $10,000 settlement payment.
According to the injured driver, he believed that the settlement into which he had entered with the trucking company covered only his claims for property damage, lost wages, and rental car expenses. Allegedly, that belief was supported by the investigator, who told him that the trucking company “is still responsible for your medical expenses.”
Two months later, the injured driver hired an attorney who later filed an action for his personal injury damages, seeking $250,000 in compensation. The trucking company sought to dismiss the case, arguing that the signed release prevented the lawsuit.
At that point, the plaintiff raised the issue of the alleged fraudulent inducement that led him to agree to sign the release agreement. The defense sought summary judgment in its favor, arguing that the plaintiff waited too long to make his fraud in the inducement assertion. The trial judge agreed and entered a summary judgment for the trucking company.
The appeals court disagreed and revived the plaintiff’s case. That court explained that Tennessee law does not have a “bright line” standard for what is or is not “prompt” in the context of making a fraudulent inducement claim. It is different in each case, and it “requires a consideration of the specific circumstances of each case.” In earlier cases, delays of six and 10 months were considered acceptable, while delays of 36 months or several years in other matters either were not or were analyzed negatively by the courts.
In this case, the plaintiff potentially learned of the alleged fraud from his own insurance company in April 2012. In June 2013, he amended his complaint document for the first time to allege that he was fraudulently induced into the settlement. For the purposes of summary judgment, 14 months was a short enough delay that the trucking company was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The case was then remanded for further proceedings, and it is unclear whether it will be dismissed again after further evidence is taken.
Trucking companies understand that accidents involving “big rigs” can inflict significant damage, which means significant potential liability for those trucking companies. To that end, they may work very hard to try to reduce or eliminate potential damages claims. Don’t shortchange yourself. Talk to a lawyer first. The truck accident lawyers at the Law Office of David S. Hagy, PLC have been helping injured people for many years. We understand the “ins and outs” of trucking accident cases and can help you make a truly informed decision about any proposed settlement or release.
Reach us online or call (615) 515-7774.
More Blog Posts:
Trucker Unable to Recover for Injuries Suffered While Asleep in Passenger’s Seat, Nashville Trial Lawyer Blog, May 21, 2014
Appeals Court Upholds Jury Verdict Assessing 50-50 Fault Split in Two-Car Accident, Nashville Trial Lawyer Blog, May 13, 2014